Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Civil dialogue fosters sense of community"

The news media buzz for IndyTalks grows, with this nice article in the January 10 edition of the Indianapolis Star by Erin Kelley of the Indiana Historical Society and Cassie Stockamp of the Athenaeum Foundation.

[The same issue of the Star has a crisply edited version of an article by John Clark, "Clear Thinking about Hard Choices Facing the Heartland." You can read a longer version of the piece at The Unofficial IndyTalks Blog, and an even longer version at]

"Civil dialogue fosters sense of community"
By Erin Kelley and Cassie Stockamp

Civics is the study of good citizenship and what it means to be a member of a community. Civics is not about partisan politics, but rather our (little "d") democratic rights and duties. One of those duties is to be an informed and thoughtful participant in community matters. We don't have to agree with each other, but if Indiana and America are to remain strong in the 21st century, we need to open our minds, converse with those outside our comfort zones, connect ideas and create solutions.

Many of Indianapolis's nonprofit and cultural organizations work to enhance community life and have missions that support civic learning and engagement. Whether based in the arts, humanities or religion, these groups strive to engage people in relevant ways. In many cases, they also serve as community centers that encourage thoughtful discussions.

With all of this in mind, several local organizations gathered a year ago to discuss what was being done to elevate civic dialogue in Indianapolis. They met to explore how resources could be shared and audiences broadened by creating fresh and even provocative opportunities for meaningful -- and civically minded -- conversations. The book "Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism" by Richard Longworth soon became the focus of conversation.

A native of Iowa and longtime Chicago Tribune reporter, Longworth takes an unflinching look at the Midwest and how states like Indiana can easily fail in a global economy. Using his book as a launching pad into a collaborative venture to strengthen civic dialogue in Indianapolis, IndyTalks was born.

IndyTalks is a citywide effort designed to foster a sense of community through respectful and creative civic dialogue. Some of the city and state's most active organizations will examine Indiana's future from their own unique perspective in fresh ways through this initiative. Whether using the context of history, art, religion or even food, the goal of IndyTalks is to help people converse, connect and create.

These programs are conversations about important issues that are rooted in the belief that good citizenship begins with good conversations. Visit to learn more and then get ready to converse, connect and create.

IndyTalks partners include the Athenaeum Foundation, Indiana Historical Society, Indiana Humanities Council, WFYI, Marian University, Indianapolis-Marion County Public Library, Big Car Collective, Arts Council of Indianapolis, University of Indianapolis Center for Aging & Community, Christian Theological Seminary, IUPUI Common Theme Project and the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and Spirit & Place.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

IndyTalks and "Caught in the Middle"

Talk about globalization makes many Hoosiers nervous. They think of local jobs lost to companies employing cheap workers in China. They feel vulnerable to financial crises outside our borders, to mysterious economic forces made less understandable by so-called “experts” on TV news or talk radio who seem most interested in scoring partisan points.

Fortunately, globalization’s impact on the Midwest is clearly analyzed by Richard Longworth’s splendid book, Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism. Think Thomas Friedman’s “The World is Flat” meets the really flat states. Longworth looks at shuttered shops in small towns and failing public schools in big cities, at state-of-the-art biofuels plants and struggling family farms. Combining personal anecdotes and economic statistics, he sketches a sobering picture of the challenges Midwesterners face.

For nearly sixty years, the family farm has been vanishing, unable to compete with the astonishing productivity of gigantic scale agribusiness. Rural depopulation slowed a bit three decades ago when companies built factories in small towns. But this manufacturing is most vulnerable to global competition, and now boarded-up factories add another sad touch to a bleak rural landscape.

The most distressing feature of globalization may be that its victims seem unable to understand the real causes of their problems. During the 2008 election, whether to tear up the North American Free Trade Agreement emerged as a hot Midwestern issue. But NAFTA has been a net economic benefit for Indiana and other heartland states, and the real threat to local manufacturing jobs is not Mexico but China. The answer is smarter investing in education and encouraging innovative collaboration at home, not restricting trade. But “stop NAFTA” is a convenient slogan for saying “stop globalization,” not a solution.

Immigration is another issue that seems to cloud our ability to think clearly. Food processing plants are keeping many small town afloat. But these towns have experienced such a flight of their young people to cities at the first opportunity that a massive inflow of hard-working immigrants from south of the border has been necessary. Rather than an infusion of fresh blood, locals see "Illegals" and "Mexicans" who threaten hometown values and the rule of law.

Longworth focuses attention on the Midwest's major research universities, which are increasingly dependent on attracting the "best and brightest" from around the world to hold their own against rivals on the coasts (and increasingly in Asia). Local companies that can compete globally will themselves need to attract and retain these foreign-born brains.But to many in the Midwest, these newcomers are a source of concern. They crowd out native-born students from universities, they speak strange languages and practice religions that might be dangerous.

Global competition, Longworth reminds us, has not always been scary for the Midwest. In the first half of the 20th century, the Midwest generated more patents than anywhere else. Our factories used the best technologies, our workers and farmers were the most productive in the world. We were the cutting edge.

Our problem today is that yesterday’s successes make it tough to think clearly about hard choices we must make for the future. Political leaders and citizens in Indiana and its neighbors are blinded by a complacent belief that, on the whole, we really are all right. The worst case of this myopia in Longworth’s book is Cleveland, where he says leaders not only have no idea what the answer is, they have no idea what the questions are. But Indianapolis could be headed that direction. Unless we think creatively and talk seriously about how we want to live in a rapidly changing world, he argues, the years ahead will be rough for Indiana.

We can think and talk creatively, and enjoy ourselves in the process.

IndyTalks kicks off at noon Wednesday January 13 when WFYI FM 90.1 interviews Longworth. Read his book, hear what he has to say — and listen to what he doesn’t say. Longworth identifies many of the human assets and regional resources that could help us meet those challenges. IndyTalks focuses on our hidden strengths that even such a sharp-eyed observer might miss.

Longworth, for instance, rightly claims the Midwest’s major research universities can produce future breakthroughs and innovations. But in addition to Purdue, Indiana University and Notre Dame, more than 30 small, independent liberal arts colleges are scattered across Indiana. For many towns, these colleges can be vital sources of ideas and talent. Goshen College is helping Northern Indiana integrate the rapid influx of Latino immigrants. The University of Evansville’s Institute for Global Enterprise in Indiana is reshaping local business strategies in the south.

On March 18, Marian University hosts “Backyard Pundits: Public Leadership and Ethical Questions for Indiana’s Future,” an IndyTalks event highlighting the importance of small liberal arts colleges. More than partisan “talking heads” on TV or shrill “shock jocks” on the radio, local public intellectuals can engage the community in a civil and constructive discussion about how the world is shaping local life, and how local groups in Indiana can help make the world better.

Expect more from IndyTalks than conventional lectures and panel discussions. On Feb. 24 at the Central Library the surrealist art collective Big Car puts on “7 Simultaneous Lecturers: Indy Arts and Globalization.” Seven experts will share the stage, all speaking at the same time about our global challenges. The audience will vote whose microphone is turned up or down. This is how Washington-based pundits sound to us in the heartland, loud voices struggling to be heard. All too often we in the audience respond by tuning out messages we dislike, listening only to views with which we agree.

(Don't worry if this sounds too much like a piece of performance art, IndyTalks will feature a more conventional discussion of "What the Arts Mean to Indianapolis" on July 22, hosted by the Indianapolis Arts Council.)

Many of the features of Midwestern life that could be seen as obstacles to prospering in the world of the 21st century could be assets, if only we are clever and flexible. Consider that most homey and provincial of epithets, "Hoosier." Our challenge in Indiana is not that immigrants will cause us to lose our Hoosier values of generosity, trust, hospitality, and so on. Our challenge is to be able to tell newcomers the story of what it means to be a Hoosier -- explain to them what makes us special -- in a way that makes them want to join us. We also need to listen to newcomers tell us why their cultures and values are also special so that we can incorporate the best from around the world into what it means to be a Hoosier. We can start discussing what this means at the Indiana Historical Center on June 15, when Prof. James Madison of Indiana University asks "Is It Good to be a Hoosier?"

Farming is a major issue in Caught in the Middle, and it's no surprise that food turns up twice as topics for IndyTalks. A product of small town Iowa, Richard Longworth knows that even though manufacturing is the economic heart of the Midwest, agriculture is its soul. Corporate mega-farmer in the Midwest produce more than anyone else, anywhere on the planet. In order to compete the rest of the world, in fact, is being forced to adopt consolidated farming practices developed here ... we can still be at the forefront of globalization.

The problem is that no one likes the idea of corporate mega-farming. Longworth believes it has fatally destroyed the lives of small towns across the Midwest. He sees glimmers of hope in thriving niches of non-corporate small-scale local farmers using less industrial methods. The glimmers may be brighter than he thinks. The :locavore" movement in Central Indiana is driving the blossoming of urban gardening and farmers markets. More generally, many families appear to want to think about what they are eating, and how the food got to their tables. May 4 IndyTalks takes on this desire with "Food for Thought." The Indiana Humanities Council will set up venues across the city for pitch-in dinners where people can share food with one another, and informally discuss the meaning of what they are putting in their mouths.

The issue of food and globalization turns up again on September 30, when celebrity TV chefs Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert come to Clowes Hall.

IndyTalks will succeed only if it delivers on its name, only if it gets us talking and listening to one another about how to meet our common challenges.

Inside scoop on "7 Simultaneous Lecturers" format

Jim Walker of Big Car sends this overview of the February 24 Big Car event at the Central Library:

The idea is we'll have seven local cultural experts -- artists, leaders, thinkers -- who will simultaneously present short lectures with powerpoint presentations on the topic of art and culture in Indianapolis and its role in the global scheme of things.

These seven lecturers will present their lectures at the same time. They'll stand on the stage, facing the projections (backs to the audience). Each of the lecturers -- who will be wearing headphone monitors so they can hear themselves -- will be assigned a number. People in the audience will have a set of numbers they hold up. Intermittently, the audience will vote on which of the lecturers they'd like to hear over the p.a. system. Then we'll turn the one or ones selected up through the p.a. system. Sometimes one will be amplified at a time, sometimes more than one.

The simultaneous lectures will happen for about 10 minutes as an audio/video performance art piece. Then I'll lead a panel discussion/conversation with the panelists and the audience. We plan to record all of the individual lectures to put out as podcasts.

Sounds like pecha kucha staged as an iron cage death match ... should be fun.

Twitterers come to theTweetup with IndyTalks Jan. 13

Today's 21st century vocabulary word: Tweetup. Says PC Magazine: "A gathering of users brought together via Twitter. For example, at conferences, Twitter is used by attendees to arrange to meet after the show for discussion, cocktails and parties. Also called a "Twestival" (Twitter festival). See Twitterese." NASA has pioneered the use of major tweetups ... its tweetup for the shuttle launch last November attracted beings with hyper-developed thumbs form as far away as New Zealand, Morocco, and Bejor.

Whether you tweet or still communicate the way people have since the dawn of time (by cell phone), you can come to the Indiana Humanities Council to hang out wiht other fans of IndyTalks:

Join us for a Tweetup listening party to kick off the IndyTalks initiative, on Jan. 13. We’ll meet at 11:45 a.m. (brown bag lunch optional) in WFYI’s community room and listen to the kick-off event: an interview with globalization expert and author Richard Longworth. (Twitter ID not required, though encouraged!)

Longworth is a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Distinguished Visiting Scholar at DePaul University. He is the author of the book, Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism, which explores the new realities globalization has brought to the Midwest and what they mean for the region – and the country. The book is being used as a starting point for the IndyTalks initiative.

WFYI 90.1 FM HD1 will broadcast the interview at noon, so please arrive by 11:45 a.m.

Any questions? DM @INHumanities or e-mail Kristen at

Friday, January 8, 2010

From NUVO: "Indytalks tackles the future of Indiana"

"Indytalks tackles the future of Indiana"


Posted in NUVO on Jan. 6, 2010 by Jeff Cox  

Indytalks, a social think tank formed by collaboration between the Athenaeum foundation, the Indiana Humanities Council, the Indiana Historical society and several other local organizations, begins its first in a year-long series of events aimed at getting Hoosiers involved in state issues. Its purpose is to stimulate intelligent and thoughtful conversation on topical social issues in an effort to support a sense of community among the people of Indiana.

Indytalks’ creators seek to bridge the gaps between major social, economic and artistic communities. “The notion was how do we bring intellectual conversation to the community,” says Cassie Stockamp, President of the Athenaeum Foundation and one of the principal players behind Indytalks. “We realized that they’re already going on in the city, but they’re being done in islands.” The solution, they figured, was to formulate a series of forums where civic dialogue could thrive and average Hoosiers could get direct answers about issues facing them for the future.

“As we talk about the career professional out there, how do we get them engaged, how do we get them involved in Indianapolis? [We want] to make the city feel more contemporary, consistent to what’s happening on the East and West coasts,”says Stockamp.

Indytalks’ creators are not alone in feeling that a city like Indianapolis, right in the center of the Midwest, could stand a stark look at itself in comparison with its coastal neighbors. Richard Longworth, former Chicago Tribune writer and author of Caught in the Middle: America’s Heartland in the Age of Globalism, makes supporting arguments in his recent book.

Longworth’s book focuses on many issues, but one theme keeps coming up — the need for the Midwest, a traditionally small-town-family-farm area, to adapt in order to fit the stringent realities of our economic and social future. Indytalks’ organizers feel the book’s principles could help guide Indianapolis’ future and inspire participation in many of the series’ events. This is most clearly shown in the first event — a Jan. 13 WFYI interview with Longworth to kick off the conversation and set a tone.

The next event, on Feb. 24, is perhaps the most intriguing concept Indytalks has planned in order to attract a wider variety of participants. “7 Simultaneous Lectures” is exactly what its name says. Seven well-known members of Indy’s art community lecture on the state of the arts in Indiana in the age of globalization, all at the same time — but audiences are able to adjust the speakers’ volume during the talk. “I’m looking forward to seeing something that most of us will never have sat through before,” says Stockamp. “It’s going to be interesting to see the speakers respond when someone gets up in the middle of their lecture.”

Other events spanning the year include “What the Arts Mean to Indianapolis”, “Is it Good to be a Hoosier?” and an evening presentation by television chefs Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert. The last event is scheduled for Oct. 7, but Stockamp does not think Indytalks will necessarily end there. “Our goal is, if it works, if people are responsive to us, sure; if not, let’s tweak it and see what we can do to make this even more meaningful.”